Immunotherapy treatment

Cost Share Programme

What is immunotherapy?

​Your immune system is your bodies natural defence which seeks out and destroys anything that is not recognised as part of itself, including all kinds of germs and cancer cells, before they have a chance to cause disease.

Your immune system manages to destroy most rogue cells but some of them get by your defences. If you already have cancer, your immune system will still be working hard to keep your disease in check, but it probably can't do the job on its own.

What is a cost-share programme?

​There are two immunotherapy treatments used in New Zealand to treat bowel cancer and help prolong patient life. Both Keytruda and Avastin are unfunded drugs and carry a hefty price tag and need to be administered in a private oncology centre.

Some New Zealand pharmaceutical companies have "Cost Share Programmes" available through private oncology centres to help make these medicines more affordable.

Cost Share Programmes may offer free treatment doses or a capped payment for the duration of treatment. Always involve your Doctor/oncologist to work out which immunotherapy treatment could be right for you as Keytruda works better in some patients and Avastin in others.

Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust helped patients on to both the Keytruda and Avastin Cost Share Programme with the pharmaceutical companies Merck Sharp & Dohme NZ (MSD NZ) and Roche NZ.


Keytruda has been shown to be effective in treating metastatic colorectal patients that are MSI-H or have the hereditary mutation Lynch Syndrome.

Each New Zealand patient is required to fundraise about $60,000 (NZD) excluding GST to pay for the first 9 rounds of injections which are administered 3 weeks apart.

Once the patient has reached the $60,000 cap, Merck Sharp & Dohme NZ then provides Keytruda until the patient and the doctor decides to stop treatment. Keytruda cost-share treatment used to be available for up to two years in line with clinical trials, where it was deemed the drug should have worked sufficiently to reduce tumours and the patient remains stable or presents with no evidence of disease.

In December 2019 the rules were revised by Merck Sharp & Dohme New Zealand to allow the patient to continue to receive Keytruda after two years at no cost to the patient if deemed appropriate by their clinician.

Because Keytruda is unfunded in New Zealand for all cancers other than advanced melanoma: The Ministry of Health has directed that public hospitals are not to administer unfunded medicines and therefore Keytruda can only be given in a private hospital setting.

This directive adds another $27,000 on top of the $60,000 which pays for the administration, scans, oncologist fees and GST for the private hospital.

Once a patient has reached the $60,000 + GST cap, they are no longer required to pay for Keytruda, but are expected to pay $1,300 every 3 weeks to continue to administer the drug in the private hospital for the remainder of treatment.

Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust has tried to get patients back into the public system so the administration of these drugs can be free. In 2018 the Minister of Health, the Hon. Dr David Clark denied our request.

We have come up with ways to fundraise to help cancer patients with these costs in New Zealand.

Read our article here on some of the effective ways to fundraise.


Avastin cost-share programme works in the same way as the Keytruda programme. An amount of money is needed to be raised privately and drug infusions are carried out in private oncology centres.

Treatments such as Keytruda and Avastin have been designed to give the immune system the upper hand against cancer. Used either on its own or combined with chemotherapy or radiation.

It's an additional, less toxic method of controlling the disease or reducing side effects from other treatments. In the years to come, as scientists learn more about the immune system, immunotherapy promises to become even more common and more effective.

Charity Achievements

Key Milestones reached by Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust team.


Dollars distributed to help fund vital research and providing better patient outcomes


Bowel cancer survivors rehabilitated after gruelling treatment helping to reduce cancer re-occurrence


Bowel screening kits provided to Kiwi’s who do not qualify for free public screening to detect bowel cancer early


Loving families kept together for longer with help for immunotherapy treatments that help reduce tumours